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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful, 31 July 2010
By 
enthusiast "enthusiast" (sussex, uk) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Dvorák: Symphonic Poems (Audio CD)
The performances are as excellent as the other two reviews say ... they have that extra ounce of magic that make for great performances. The music, for those who are new to it, is very late Dvorak ... often beautiful and mellow, sometimes dramatic. There is magic in this music and this is especially the case when the performances are as good as here.

However, the pieces are also offered as fill ups to other Harnoncourt Dvorak recordings. I bought this set first but then ended up buying the same pieces all over again as I just had to buy more Harnoncourt Dvorak!
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of Harnoncourt's very best recordings, 7 Mar 2010
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This review is from: Dvorák: Symphonic Poems (Audio CD)
Nikolaus Harnoncourt, now 80, has had an esteemed career in both the concert hall and in recordings even though his sometimes too personal approach can render a recording either inert or wayward. A good example of the latter is his recording of Bruckner's Symphony No. 5 Bruckner - Symphony No 5 which is wonderful when Harnoncourt adopts a hands-off style but fails when he interjects his misguided ideas about pacing and stop and go tactics, especially in the finale.

Thankfully, Harnoncourt does none of this with Dvorak's symphonic poems The Golden Spinning Wheel, The Noon Witch, The Water Goblin and The Wild Dove. Here, in contrast to the Bruckner, his pacing is so expansive it takes two disks to capture everything he and the wonderful Concertgebouw Orchestra have to say about this music. While Charles Mackerras squeezed all four of these tone poems onto a single Supraphon disk Dvorak - Symphonic Poems in his new recording with a total time of 79:46, it takes Harnoncourt and Concertgbouw 82 minutes to get it all done. Since this twofer is a two for one proposition usually available at a discount from Amazon vendors, you won't overpay for it.

If you're not familiar with this part of Dvoark's orchestral ouevre, the four symphonic poems were composed in succession during 1895-96 (they are opus 107-110 and Burghauser Nos. are 195-198) at the same time as the composer's string quartets. Exploiting the poetry of Czech author Karel Erben, Dvorak created what amounts to four Grimm's fairy tales full of childhood trepipation, fear and foreboding. The Noon Witch is a characterization of a witch that takes away a misbehaving boy who has ignored the warnings of his mother. One source says, "...the child does not listen and the witch comes at the stroke of noon. Soon afterwards, the father arrives to see his wife who has fainted with the dead body of their little son in her arms."

The stories for all four are similar although the concept of the Golden Spinning Wheel is too ridiculous to describe. The music is full of Dvorak's late harmony, melody, dance rhythm, orchestration and emotion you hear in the mature symphonies. These are masterpieces that, for whatever reasons, have not caught on with the public like the tone poems of Tchaikovsky or Liszt. For fans of Czech music, they compare favorably to the tryptich of Smetana's "Swedish" tone poems Smetana: Orchestral Works.

Harnoncourt captures the drama of the poetry in each case and the Concertgebouw is wonderfully realized in sound of extraordinary presence, depth and realism. The Penguin Guide The Penguin Guide to Recorded Classical Music 2010: The Key Classical Recordings on CD, DVD and SACD called this one of Teldec's best recordings; both the sound and artisry are world class, making this one of Harnoncourt's greatest recordings.

He's had others I'd put in this category, too. A short list would include his outstanding recording of a trio of Haydn horn-prominent symphonies Haydn - Symphonies Nos 31, 59 & 73 - Concentus Musicus Wien / Nikolaus Harnoncourt, his record of Mendelssohn's Midsummer's Night Dream and First Walpurgis Night Mendelssohn - A Midsummer Night's Dream. Erste Walpurgisnacht., and his masterful recording of Schubert's Mass No. 6 Schubert: Mass No.6There are those that adore his Beethoven and Brahms symphonies, but I don't count myself among them.

This recording is a winner, however, and is at least as good as the best competition out there including Mackerras, Kubelik Dvorák-Slavonic Dances Op. 46 & 72; Overtures; Symphonic Poems and Vaclac Neumann Dvorák: Symphonic Poems while history buffs have Talich's classic renditions available Dvoák - Symphonic Poems. To me, this recording beats all the others in this repertory.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A worthy successor to Chalabala, Ancerl, Kertesz, Kubelik and Jarvi, 25 Nov 2012
By 
I. Giles (Argyll, Scotland) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (TOP 50 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Dvorák: Symphonic Poems (Audio CD)
There have been several significant steps in the introduction and development of fine recordings of these wonderful pieces and I have been with them all of the way!

Firstly the story starts with two ground-breaking Supraphon collections by Chalabala and Ancerl. These alerted the collecting world including myself to Dvorakian wonders beyond the later symphonies. Next came Kertesz with a great technical step forward using Decca technology and the world class dramatic playing of the LSO. This was followed by Kubelik on DGG with more of a Slavonic feel built in and provided by his Bavarian orchestra. That was followed by Jarvi's accounts which were initially issued as additional atems to the individual discs ot the symphonies. The symphonic poems are now available separately as a 'twofer.' Now we have Harnoncourt and the current culmination of this progressive development.

Harnoncourt provides all the drama of Kertesz coupled with some of the Slavonic awareness of Kubelik plus his own probing mentality which searches out even more of the orchestral detail of these scores aided by the playing on the great Dutch orchestra. This combination gives the works something of a symphonic feel. This is a fine new addition to the previous fine recordings from the preceding generations and no-one buying it is likely to be disappointed. More likely they will be caught up in Dvorak's wonderful musical imagination as he sets these stories with unforgettable music. The recording is very fine too.

I would not wish to be without either the Kertesz or the Kubelik recordings and I still treasure them for their special insights but if pressed to own just one I might easily plump for this group with Harnoncourt or the 'twofer' with Jarvi. Jarvi offers a degree more excitement interpretively backed up by really thrilling orchestral playing and a particularly 'open' recorded sound rather than Harnoncourt's relatively weighty interpretations and sound. The two Supraphon issues sadly no longer compete on simple recorded sound. In musical terms they are still to be remembered with grateful affection.

For new purchasers, along with the excellent Jarvi set, this is a really fine investment and a good place to start. For collectors I would advise that all four sets, Kertesz, Kubelik, Jarvi and Harnoncourt, are essential purchases each with their own individual insights to offer! So go forth and multiply (musically speaking)!

........................................

Some dialogue from the comments section that may offer further help:

Have you heard the Järvi Chandos twofer? What do you think of it? I ask because these versions are fine too. It really helps that the Järvi set includes the Hero's Song as an extra. Most recordings of the tone poems only focus on the Erben quartet of orchestral ballads but Järvi includes that non-Erben poem in his set. (U.K. review)

In my opinion the Jarvi twofer set is the best set to buy. It has excellent performances and sound and also is more complete than most other options. Best wishes,
Ian Giles

I'm so pleased you think well of that transversal. Why not consider updating your review to include this choice? I'm sure it's as darned good as any on the market now. (U.K. review)

I have followed your advice as you will now read. I can't imagine how I managed to miss out references to the Jarvi set in the first review bearing in mind my liking for it, so many thanks. Ian Giles

I thought that you might like to know that before I buy a recording I now look through all the reviews to see if you have posted one. Your assessments and opinions are invaluable. Thank you. (US review)

I particularly like your format of review. They give the prospective purchaser an idea of the style of the playing and relevant comparisons. They are succinct. Keep up the good work! (UK review)

I'm sure there are many other serious collectors, besides myself, who wait for your synopsis and opinion before spending their hard-earned money on new releases...
Keep up the good work!
Thank you (UK review)
............................................
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Some of Dvorak's best music played and recorded superbly, 7 Jun 2010
By 
Colin Fortune (Birmingham, UK) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Dvorák: Symphonic Poems (Audio CD)
This collection of Dvorak's late symphonic poems is the clear winner (by a nose!) in a field that has some very hot competition. Classic performances by Talich Dvorak The water goblin Vol7 and Kubelik Dvorák-Slavonic Dances Op. 46 & 72; Overtures; Symphonic Poems have been front-runners in their time (and they are still remarkably fine performances) but this "twofer", sold by Amazon as a superb bargain, presents a stunning recording of the Royal Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra in the finest and most natural of modern sound. Harnoncourt's interpretations are masterly.

Present day competition comes from a one-disc compilation on Superaphon of Sir Charles Mackerras' recordings over the past few years Dvorak - Symphonic Poems and Sir Simon Rattle's Berlin Philharmonic "twofer" on EMI Dvorák - Tone Poems. Both are also very well recorded, and Rattle's, at slightly slower speed than Mackerras but at broadly similar tempi to Harnoncourt, rich and rounded. But the Harnoncourt has a particular quality of absolute rightness throughout that is hard to fathom but is certainly there.

Take the end of "The Wood Dove". Where Rattle produces lovely quiet playing from the BPO and a melancholy that is almost sweet, Harnoncourt's sadness is that of exhaustion and emptiness, and this is produced by a slightly faster tempo and slightly less "sympathetic" phrasing in the strings. After all, this not the end of Mahler 9 where the grief of death is the common lot of humanity: no, here we have depiction of the just consequences of murder and deceit.

One can listen to these works as "pure music" but the programmatic element is vital - even as far as the shape of themes in "The Golden Spinning Wheel" matching the rhythms of Erben's original poem in Czech. The notes in this issue are helpful here.

If you do not know this music it is top-flight Dvorak. He took on what was the then very cutting-edge development of contemporary symphonic poems (see, for example the early works of Richard Strauss) and produced four triumphantly Czech folk epics. As, unaccountably, these works are hardly ever played in the concert hall, this superb Harnoncourt compilation is your best bet at getting to know them in very fine performances.
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Dvorák: Symphonic Poems by Antonín Dvorák (Audio CD - 2006)
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